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Review: My Name Is Asher Lev

Eighty Mostly Spellbinding minutes

Saturday night's performance of My Name is Asher Lev opened to a packed house, and-after eighty mostly spellbinding minutes-closed to a standing ovation.

Regional theatre is an amazingly flexible and interconnected network. Three organizations are involved in My Name is Asher Lev. The Jewish Theatre of Bloomington is responsible for selecting and bringing Indianapolis's Phoenix Theatre's successful production to the Bloomington; the piece is staged at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. The play is directed by Bloomington resident Martha Jacobs.

My Name is Asher Lev is Chaim Potok's novel of the growth of a gifted artist (played by John Michael Goodson) born into an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. Early in the play, which was adapted from the novel by Aaron Posner, there is a strong, upsetting scene when Asher's father (Bill Simmons) angrily condemns twelve-year-old Asher's drawings while his mother (Wendy Farber) stands by helplessly. Although Saturday night the scene seemed awkward and a bit out of balance, it emphasized the levels of anger and innocence in the play.

Playing With Time

From there the story goes backwards in time to Asher's development from the age of six. He speaks directly to the audience of the early discovery of his gift, and how his early efforts are encouraged. A cheerful uncle (Bill Simmons again) buys one of the pre-teen's sketches. Despite his father's growing concern, the family's rabbi (also Bill Simmons) sends Asher to Jacob Kahn, an older artist.

Kahn (yet again, Bill Simmons) counsels, mentors, and introduces him to a gallery owner (Wendy Farber), as well as his first nude model (also Farber)-but just the back of her right shoulder. All the while, the grown artist cautions and even warns his boyhood self of the dangers of committing to honesty in art.

Mother In The Middle

In many of the family scenes, Asher's mother plays the role of the mediator, making peace between Asher and his father. It's a nice feature of the play that, at the same time Asher seeks to grow and develop, his mother is expanding her horizon beyond the home and community to study, travel and work. She's as critical of Asher's choices as the father, but more open in her love.

As both characters continue to grow and develop, the play moves towards its climax with Asher's first big exhibition. It's a show where Asher finally dramatizes his struggle with his father, and his mother's place between, them using that most fundamental of Christian images, the cross. After he promises that there will be no nudes in the show, they come to the opening-but of course, they get more than they bargained for.

The Fallout

Following his parents' stunned reaction, still more falling action remains. The play seems near its end, but Asher's dialogue continues. I confess, my mind wandered a bit. The play does pick up, finally concluding with a potent image of separation that mirrors Asher's artistic rendering of the separation from his family and the suffering of his mother.

My Name is Asher Lev is a fascinating, intelligent, thought-provoking story of growth, and of the development of an artist's self awareness and conscience. It features a trio of very accomplished actors in a taut production.

You can find an interview with director Martha Jacobs along with this and other reviews and interviews on our web site at WFIU dot ORG. My Name is Asher Lev has a final performance in the Bloomington Playwrights Project's theater, Thursday June 16 at 7:30.

At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker.

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